When you think of your daily spiritual practice, is it through discipline or joy? Rabbi Rami considers how his strategies for spiritual growth have changed over the years.
Horses are big. Yet I don’t find them frightening. Of course, you must respect them and the fact that they could trample you to death, but even knowing this I find myself called to them. I feel the same about elephants, black and brown bears, and hungry, hungry caterpillars. I suspect all of this has to do with books I read to my son and grandsons. That said, I was very excited about the opportunity to speak with Dr. Allan Hamilton on the Spirituality+Health podcast about his article in Spirituality+Health Magazine: “The Enlightenment Lab: 8 Zen Lessons from Horses.”
Among several other books, Dr. Hamilton is the author of Zen Mind, Zen Horse, a book I have given to several horse lovers as a way of introducing them to the world of spirituality. In the introduction to that book, Dr. Hamilton poses a question each of us should ponder: “It’s human nature to want to improve ourselves: physically, financially, emotionally. And as we age and mature, our efforts seem to focus naturally on spiritual growth as well. But that requires new insights and skills we must learn and practice. We need to build up karmic muscle to turn the breakdowns in our lives into breakthroughs. We must turn into warriors who take up the discipline of spiritual pursuit in earnest. But how?”
I like this question: But how? There was a time when I was inclined to speak of “discipline” and “spiritual pursuit,” but that time is past. When I think of my daily spiritual practice, I think of it in terms of play rather than discipline. Discipline sounds like I’m imposing my will on something. But on what? On my body? On my breath? On my thoughts and feelings? When I was younger, I did try to discipline these phenomena, but that was a long time ago. Now I just sit or lay down or walk without giving any thought to posture or form. And I have long since abandoned any attempt to quiet my mind, think only positive thoughts, or feel only positive feelings. Yet the question still remains. But how?
My answer is this: Get out of the way and watch whatever my body/mind is doing. As I do this, I often hear what the Bible calls kol d’mama dakka or the fragile voice of silence (I Kings 19). In Sanskrit, this sound is called Nada and Omkara—a never-ending white noise pervading the universe out of which the primal sound OM arises.
As Ajahn Sumedo writes, this “cosmic hum is not a thing you have to find—rather you just open to it... When you’re just with the cosmic sound alone, there is pure attention, no sense of a person or personality, of me and mine.”
I just rest in this sound, and as I do I realize that the “I” who observes and the “I” who rests isn’t “me” at all, but the I Am that is the infinite Aliveness happening as all life. There is no discipline here; no mastery; no warrior. And no “how.” As someone who has spent over half a century learning and teaching “how,” this revelation is troubling and yet also comforting. For, as Jesus said, “Let those who seek continue seeking until they find. Yet when they find they will be troubled. And when they’re troubled, they will be awakened. And when they’re awakened, they will be free from it all.”
Listen to the podcast that inspired this essay here.